Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
Israeli President Moshe Katzav, left, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, 3rd from right, attend the funeral for Pope John Paul II on Friday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/8/2005 11:52:56 AM ET 2005-04-08T15:52:56

Israeli President Moshe Katzav and Syrian President Bashar Assad shook hands on Friday at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, Israel Radio said.

It was believed to be the first time the presidents of Israel and Syria, two countries officially at war, have shaken hands.

The radio said the Iranian-born Katzav also spoke at the funeral in his native Farsi with Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami.

According to Israel Radio, the two conversed about the town where both men were born.

Iran officially seeks Israel’s destruction.

'Good morning'
Katsav and Assad, sitting one row apart, said “good morning” to one another and shook hands as the funeral got under way, the radio said.

The Syrian leader then approached Katsav and shook his hand again after the ceremony was over, the report added.

Israel and Syria last held peace negotiations in 2000 which foundered over the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Syria has called repeatedly for the talks to resume. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Syrian forces must first pull out of Lebanon and stop supporting Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups before Israel would consider negotiations.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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